There are so many ways for you to get home safely after a night out. There are taxis. There are Ubers. There are designated drivers, and family members, and friends, and there’s just not drinking or smoking to begin with. There simply is not an excuse in 2016 for driving under the influence. And Major League Baseball needs to reflect that reality.
Thankfully, it mostly does. Oh, baseball has a sketchy past when it comes to DUIs. Legendary manager Billy Martin and Cardinals reliever Josh Hancock both killed themselves driving drunk. Rangers reliever Matt Bush served time in prison for running down a motorcyclist after stealing his teammates truck and going on a bender. Miguel Cabrera, Tony La Russa, Mark Grace, and dozens and dozens of others have been arrested over the years for driving impaired.
The good news is that this problem seems far less prevalent today. Earlier this year, Twins pitching coach Neil Allen was also arrested on suspicion of drunk driving after refusing to take a breathalyzer at 4 AM. The Twins suspended him for a month and a half and he reportedly sought treatment for alcohol addiction. Then last night, Rangers reliever Jeremy Jeffress was arrested by Dallas police for driving while intoxicated. Details are still sketchy, but it doesn’t look good when you’re arrested at 5 AM the morning that you have a ballgame.
Jeffress’s arrest is complicated by his past. He tested positive three times as a minor leaguer in the Brewers organization for pot, but was apparently using it to self-medicate an undiagnosed case of juvenile epilepsy. Despite developing a reputation, and spawning a million jokes about his career going up in smoke, Jeffress battled back and found a career as an excellent reliever with electric stuff. And he seemed to stay clean.
He was a great story if you, like me, root for guys who come back from personal demons. And he still might be. I’m not ready to criticize him until we know more. That said, we sure can talk about how it’s 2016 and Major League Baseball still doesn’t have a formal process for dealing with DUIs.
And it should. It really, really should. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as recently as 2012, “more than 10,000 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes.” That doesn’t account for the thousands of other Americans injured or traumatized by alcohol-related accidents. And, of course, it doesn’t count Nick Adenhart, the promising young Angels pitcher killed by a drunk driver in 2009.
Baseball has always been very slow to address its players’ behavior off the field, but this past offseason, turning a blind eye became impossible. Responding to the awful performance of the NFL to address its domestic violence problem, Major League Baseball took proactive steps to address players suspected of committing similar crimes.
Working with the MLB Players Association, Rob Manfred acquired the power to punish abusers, regardless of the outcomes of their legal cases. This new policy has so far been used to investigate and punish Jose Reyes and Aroldis Chapman, to investigate and clear Yasiel Puig, and to investigate Hector Olivera, whose fate remains in limbo. But it’s succeeded in getting violent players off the field and making an example out of them. And Manfred, the league, and its players have been largely praised for how they handled what could have been a burgeoning problem.
This offseason, Manfred and the union should go a step further, and work to create consequences for Major League players who are arrested and convicted of driving drunk or high. This policy should differ from the domestic violence policy, however, and take the power to punish out of the Commissioner’s hands. Physical evidence, after all, is easier to acquire in DUI cases, and because there is less ambiguity in what a player may have done because it often doesn’t require eyewitnesses or victim testimony. As such, set punishments for first, second, and third offenses would make more sense, while still providing an important disincentive for players who might be out late.
It just makes too much sense for a league that is invested in its public image and that purports to care about their communities. After Hancock’s death in 2007, at least 19 teams banned beer in the clubhouse after games. It was a matter of limiting their liability should the unthinkable happen and saving lives. Now that there’s precedent for the league holding players accountable on the field for their behavior off of it, it’s time to take the next logical step and institute real consequences for those who would put the rest of us at risk when there are so many easy ways to avoid it. And to make them responsible to more than just themselves for how they get home at the end of the night.